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Ten Highland Lakes Sports Insights

Welcome to this weekly column where readers will find a summary of sports across the region and the impressions left on this writer.

  1. The end of June is near. And that means a real push for athletes to attend voluntary strength-and-conditioning sessions will pick up speed in July. Let’s face it — even I am struggling to do my workouts indoors with the air conditioner and fans blaring. So those athletes who use the last invaluable weeks of the summer to arrive fit for the first day of fall training camps Aug. 1 will have a huge advantage. And coaches can drill the athletes on their knowledge of the schemes instead of working to get them in shape for the 2022 season.
  2. Marble Falls Middle School will face district competition that mirrors itself in terms of enrollment, resources and location. In other words, chances are those young athletes aren’t facing that many opponents whose children are taking private lessons, are playing club ball, and are living in cities that are nationally known for being among the fastest in growth. That’s great for Marble Falls Middle School but it doesn’t tell the complete story. Here’s what’s most important — by facing opponents that look like Marble Falls, the chances of winning contests increases. Most teams aren’t overnight successes; rather, they are working and striving when fans aren’t watching. In addition, and this to me is most important, by experiencing success in the middle school, those athletes take the confidence and belief with them to the high school, which are traits high school coaches shouldn’t have to spend as much time developing.
  3. Let’s stay with Marble Falls Middle School for a moment and look at the football teams during the last two years. Marble Falls Middle School faced the feeder schools to Hutto, Georgetown and Liberty Hill. Meanwhile, the varsity posted a 16-7 overall record, finished third in district play each season to advance to the playoffs, and had a 3-2 record in the postseason. The Mustangs’ four losses were to district foes Liberty Hill and Austin McCallum. The wins were against Austin Crockett, Navarro, Northeast and Travis. Here’s the point — those seventh- and eighth-graders had to find success in ways that may not have been reflected on the scoreboard. At one time, Marble Falls school officials wanted the middle school to join the district that included Burnet and other surrounding Class 4A members. But because Marble Falls was a Class 5A school district, the Class 4A members were understandably uninterested. With Marble Falls dropping to Class 4A, every team will play Burnet and Lampasas. And because of the recent success of the varsity, every player in every grade has witnessed success that should help inflame a fire to add their own chapter of accomplishment.
  4. Another group of Marble Falls athletes who are showing their love of the sport are the members of Marble Falls Youth Football and Cheer, which recently hosted a fitting day of uniforms and equipment for players and cheerleaders. These athletes are learning head coach Brian Herman’s slot-T offense, which will help everyone for years to come especially since the association has been playing teams located within the Class 4A district the high school and middle school are playing. No longer will families experience success playing youth football and then watch their players face opponents in Georgetown, Liberty Hill and Hutto they’ve never faced.
  5. The following has already been written, but it’s worth repeating. Marble Falls dropping to Class 4A has generated massive excitement for sports, and my concern is there’s a belief that instant success will follow. While that’s always possible, my experience has been that it takes time to develop. Let’s then applaud the efforts of Marble Falls head volleyball coach Kait Goertz and head girls soccer coach Abigail Blunt for creating weekly leagues that entice their athletes to play in their home venues where the duo have invited schools that are in their district to be the competition. That way all coaches and players in those sports benefit. At the same time, the players are working together, learning each other’s tendencies and are experiencing why they love those sports — because they’re fun to play. The most important elements of these summer leagues? The players are experiencing success and gaining confidence that best comes from playing that should carry over into the upcoming school year.
  6. One reason why Marble Falls fans should be patient is because Burnet has established a level of success it plans to surpass in 2022-23. Burnet finished the Class 4A Lone Star Cup race at No. 23 thanks to regional tournament appearances by the Lady Dawgs in volleyball, basketball and soccer. The belief among the returners they can do better is a strong message to every district opponent. After watching the volleyball team play during the Marble Falls league, my one repetitive thought was the Lady Dawgs aren’t conceding anything. They are a confident bunch that has put in the work and effort to enjoy their success. And they’re not going to give anything to anyone. Opponents who want those trophies are going to have to beat Burnet to take them.
  7. The Llano softball team has three players recognized for their 2022 seasons: first baseman and pitcher Skylar Brown and shortstop Gwyn Burnett were named to the all-state team, while pitcher and first baseman Madison Kloepper will play in the all-star game in July. The three are considered the cornerstones of the program, so it’s terrific to see them honored for their play.
  8. Girls basketball and softball are two sports where commitment from a number of athletes at different schools to play during the summer is massive. Those sports have select teams that give players options. One is Next Level, a local organization that gives Highland Lakes boys and girls an opportunity to play basketball in showcase tournaments in front of college personnel. Credit Next Level for making it easy for athletes to get the exposure they want.
  9. The Smoking For Jesus Ministry School football team is showing the Eagles can win in six-man in the fall and in the summer. The Eagles won the 6-on-6 tournament, six-man football’s version of 7-on-7 in San Marcos last week where they had to pass the ball. During the fall, the Eagles made defenses pay with their ability to equally run and pass well. All of that is to say Smoking For Jesus is right where it wants to be. Now can they sustain that in a new association in 2022? While we’ll have to wait and see. There’s no question no team will be better prepared than the Eagles. The Smoking For Jesus 6-on-6 team will face the Christian School of Castle Hill at 6 p.m. Friday, June 24, on the Eagles home field, RR 2342 in Burnet.
  10. Another Shipley will walk the football sidelines as the head coach. But it’s not Jordan or Jaxon, rather it’s their cousin Hanner, the son of Faith Academy of Marble Falls head coach Stephen Shipley. I’m not surprised Hanner wants to coach considering how big of a role the sport has played in his and his family’s lives. But it’s his relationship with the sport coupled with the expectations of his last name that gives him an approach with his players that will pay dividends. Not everyone can relate to playing or coaching in front of 100,000 people. But most everyone can relate to feeling pressure to succeed and uphold a legacy. In that sense, Hanner is ready to jump start the Athens Christian Preparatory Academy’s football program projected to take the field in 2023. And since the program is returning after it ended six years ago, donations are being accepted. Contact Hanner at at 903-249-9739 or athletic director Ronnie Rains at 903-288-8445 for more information.

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